Spokane erred in handling grant money

SATURDAY, SEPT. 14, 2013

Investigators have discovered a number of mistakes in how Spokane receives and handles federal grant money, leading the city’s finance director to say the findings “could impact our ability to receive federal grants.”

The mistakes were made with grant money from 2012 primarily going to the city’s Community, Housing and Human Services Department, but a state auditor also found errors involving grant disbursement to the police department.

Gavin Cooley, the city’s finance director, said he considers the mistakes minor “technical fouls,” but he’s treating them as though they would impact the city’s ability to obtain federal grants.

The six “findings” were discussed at this week’s finance committee meeting, where representatives from the Washington state auditor’s office gave a detailed presentation of what the city had done wrong.

In short, the city didn’t properly account for how employees accounted for their time in regard to the grants, and in many cases did not distribute the grant money in a timely manner.

At the finance meeting, Council President Ben Stuckart called some of the findings “rather nitpicky” but acknowledged that rules weren’t always followed.

Cooley said the problems stem from a previous administration of the city department handling the funds.

“I don’t think these compliance issues were taken nearly as seriously by the prior staffing of CHHS, I’ll say that quite simply,” he said.

Cooley said new policies are in place to prevent the same mistakes in the future. A new time-tracking system is in place for employees dealing with federal grants. Cooley has said the city will pay for programs out of its own coffers before accepting federal money simply to prevent any violation of federal rules regarding the timeliness of grant dispersal.

“This is a high number of findings no matter how you slice it,” Cooley said at the meeting. “This is not entirely happenstance. This is a result of a lack of attention to detail. … But we’re moving in the right direction.”

Pam Dolan, the city’s director of accounting, said that while the city will fix the issues addressed by the audit, some of the same problems may be found again in the 2013 audit.

“It’s in the realm of possibility we’ll see them again,” Dolan said. “Probably several of them.”

Cooley said this is attributed to the timing of the annual audits.

“We’re nine months into a year that hasn’t even been audited yet,” Cooley said.

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